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New “Home Safe for the Holidays” initiative calls on Gov. Newsom to dramatically ramp up testing

California failing to provide COVID-19 testing needed to suppress the virus
For Immediate Release

OAKLAND, Calif. -- At the time of year that many Americans usually start making holiday travel plans, today the consumer advocacy group, CALPIRG, is launching the “Home Safe for the Holidays” initiative. The campaign calls on Gov. Newsom to ensure his state reaches the testing levels needed to suppress the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) so that people can see their loved ones more safely over the upcoming holidays. 

“Most years, Americans celebrate the holidays with family and close friends. But this isn’t ‘most years.’ No one wants to get their parents or grandparents sick. The only way we can safely see loved ones is if everyone who needs a test, gets a test and if we follow basic health protocols like mask wearing,” said Emily Rusch, CALPIRG Executive Director.

In order to hit the testing target that the Brown School of Public Health and Harvard Global Health Institute say is necessary to effectively suppress the virus, California needs to conduct more than eight times as much testing as we are doing now. CALPIRG is urging people to sign a petition to the governor urging him to commit to hitting that testing target.

Gov. Newsom has taken notable steps to expand testing in California. At the end of August, Gov. Newsom announced a new contract starting in November to increase testing by 150,000 additional tests per day with testing results within 48 hours, which is the time frame health professionals say is important for preventing isolated incidents from becoming outbreaks. Furthermore, the equity testing initiative launched by the Governor last week will help ensure the most vulnerable communities have access to testing. The federal government announced recently that it plans to deliver 100 million rapid tests to states. All of these steps are good, but California currently needs close to one million tests a day to suppress the virus. 

“Governor Newsom’s recent actions to expand testing and distribute it equitably are all important steps in the right direction, but we need much more. If we want to see our families for the holidays, attend religious services, or eat out at a restaurant without fear of contracting or spreading the virus, we need to dramatically increase the amount of testing we are doing in California. Let’s make it happen,” said Rusch. 

In contrast with California, Massachusetts and New York are currently exceeding their testing target to suppress the virus. Connecticut and Maine are also close to hitting their targets, with turnaround times of 48 hours or fewer for results. 

Right now it’s up to state governors to fill the testing gaps in their states, and they can do so by borrowing some best practices from successful states. Those include:

  • Increasing the number and variety of testing locations including drive-through testing sites, walk-up sites, and mobile testing units.

  • Mobilizing a local network of labs to increase testing capacity similar to the NY model.

  • Providing more state-sponsored educational materials explaining when people should get a test, where they can get tested and how.

  • Taking other measures to reduce the spread of the virus like closing non-essential businesses until case levels subside, and implementing statewide mask mandates. 

For a more in-depth analysis of what we need to have a semblance of a normal holiday season, check out this blog from U.S. PIRG’s Public Health Campaigns Director Matt Wellington and Dr. Syra Madad, the senior director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at NYC Health & Hospitals. 

“We know that testing is not a silver bullet to end the pandemic, and Gov. Newsom is right to emphasize measures like social distancing and mask wearing. But in order to suppress COVID-19 and safely see our loved ones this winter, we must increase testing now,” finished Rusch.

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